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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Randox Laboratories

Randox BiochipRandox Laboratories is betting their biochips will revolutionise medical diagnosis in the next few years.

Simply put, biochips are miniature laboratories capable of performing hundreds or even thousands of tests simultaneously, allowing researchers to screen for multiple conditions in a single patient blood sample.

From diagnosing diseases to detecting bioterrorism agents, these devices do it faster and less expensively than available testing methods, and are considered one of the most exciting advances to come out of current biotechnology research.

Traditionally, when a patient gives a blood or urine sample one test is done at a time, which is both costly and time consuming. Since the biochip can simultaneously analyse a slew of related tests on a single patient fluid sample, it produces a complete profile in a fraction of the time it takes current conventional testing methods.

Drug TestingThat patient profile can then be used to screen and diagnose diseases or monitor treatment and disease progression. However – and perhaps more importantly for most patients facing a nurse with a needle - the amount of sample required is much, much smaller.

More than 15 years of research and development have already gone into the development of biochip technology and Randox thinks biochips will prove suitable for a wide range of uses, including drug abuse screening.

Randox researchers first identified antibodies, proteins the immune system uses to fight off bacteria and viruses. Each different disease and condition has its own antibody, making them very specific biological markers.

Researchers then spotted these antibodies onto a microchip. If the microchip detects them in a patient sample it latches onto them. Then a special imaging system reads the biochip and provides the diagnosis.

Randox has already developed more accurate tests for cardiovascular disease, stroke, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer. Applications for this kind of technology may be huge. Apart from disease diagnosis, these types of biochips could also be used for drug detection in big sporting events such as the Olympics.

Drug testing is currently quite costly, but with biochips, both the cost and time it takes to conduct the tests would be reduced, meaning that instead of random testing, all athletes taking part could be tested, ensuring a much fairer field.

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